Director of photography: Graeme Robertson / The Guardian
“It’s like you’re pressing your nose against the window of the candy store of life, and you’ll never be on the other side.” Jody Day is describing the absence of involuntary children. The author and founder of Gateway Women, a global network of friendship, support and advocacy for childless women, talks to me about what she describes as the “friendship apocalypse” that can happen between women when you are able to have the children he dreamed of and the others did not. After realizing that children would not have happened for her due to “social infertility” (which means not having children due to circumstances rather than medical problems and is the most common reason for childlessness), Day experienced a profound ache. In the process, she has lost friends.
“I started to find it incredibly painful to be with my friends with children. And I also realized that I was the one who did the work to keep friendships. And when I stopped doing that, when I stopped keeping up with their children’s birthdays, with Facebook likes, just making sure I was included – what happened? Crickets. It was as if I had fallen off the planet. I hardly heard anyone. It was an incredibly lonely time in my life ”.
Parenting can be difficult, but I have often reflected that it is much, much harder to want a baby and not have one. This pain is still stigmatized: when Day started talking about her experience of her, she was the only one of hers, yet a fifth of British women will have no children by the time they reach 40.
In the course of researching this column, many women got in touch to reflect on how it affected their relationships, on both sides of the equation. “It’s hard to feel out of the club, to be the uncle and uncle of the group perpetually, to see friends announcing pregnancies and not to feel agitated by resentment and jealousy, bad emotions that I feel guilty about,” she tells me. Another woman whose friend is going through a period of infertility says: “It is so difficult to know what to say, because I am aware that I am not too positive or negative, as the whole process is highly unpredictable. She’s so sad all the time … Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever wanted anything as much as she wants, and it’s just heartbreaking to watch.
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The abyss that can emerge during our childbearing age can only deepen over time, when the childless friend slips from the conscience of the busy parent, or an embarrassment becomes insurmountable, to the point that the two sides are simply making friends because they have quit. to tell each other the truth. Part of the reason is that envy is such an unpleasant emotion to admit. How do you tell someone “I desperately want what you have” without making them uncomfortable? How do you admit to feeling angry and resentful of the injustice of life? “There is something really cold in the heart of envy that, particularly as women, we don’t want to know. We have been culturally conditioned to be kind, ”says Day.
“We just didn’t grow up as women to know how to deal with such conflicts within our friendships,” says Claire Cohen, author of BFF? The truth about female friendship: “So when it happens, we end up completely losing friendships. And infertility was one of the areas that seemed to occur with tragic regularity.” This is why I’m trying to be aware of my friends who don’t have kids – I don’t want to lose them being one of those tactless parents Cohen talks about, who says things like “At least you can have a stay in!” Which it essentially amounts to a denial of their pain.
And it’s pain. Day reminds me that a 30-year-old woman struggling with the involuntary absence of children is only at the beginning of a journey that can mean dealing with a different kind of life, from not being involved in the school and school system, to not being part of a community of mothers. She will have to suffer for not being a grandmother and she may not be treated like a real adult by her own parents. Talking to Day helps me understand that not having children when you desperately want them is as profound and transformative as having them, yet this is still rarely recognized despite childless women making up a large part of the population. Day’s wisdom is part of why her book Living the Unexpected Life: How to Find Hope, Meaning, and a Fulfilling Future Without Children is recommended by doctors and therapists.
In addition to encouraging crucial friendships between childless women to help them in their grief, Day wants to help mothers be their best friends. This involves recognizing that you may not be the best person for them at the time. “But she keeps inviting them,” she says. “When in doubt, never send photos of children to anyone unless they ask for them. She might say no to coming to birthday parties … don’t assume they don’t want to be a part of your life. They may simply not be able to make it this time, or this week, or this month, or this year. “
Cohen says acknowledging a friend’s pain is key, but he also notes that infertility is an incredibly difficult thing to be honest about. The fact remains that parenting dominates discourse in a way that a life without much-desired children does not. For things to change, parents need to feel more comfortable having these difficult conversations and be less involved in our own lives.
What’s workingAlong with another, the child received a special dispensation to attend an otherwise childless wedding over the weekend. Apart from some unhappy shouting during the speeches (he was promptly dismissed), he had a great time, managing to get off during a particularly noisy cèilidh . I’m so grateful to my friends Ed and Anna for including it, it meant a lot.
What it is notI haven’t been able to paint my toenails yet (see last week’s column), but I managed to cut my hair half an hour before closing time by saying wickedly that I just wanted to do my bangs and then, once she had agreed, show me the hairdresser a photo of Dakota Johnson. She started raining karmically the moment I left the salon, necessitating a sprint at home. Arriving with my hair still perfect, I picked up the baby and he immediately fell ill.